Warnings: mentions of depression, body horror elements.
Shizuo was bad at asking for favors. In the workplace and in his personal life both, he despised having to ask for help, for time, and for attention. It was a mix of pride and uncertainty, he thought. Or maybe the certainty that no one had time to give him in the first place, and that he was imposing by asking.
With Shinra, though, it was just that Shizuo would rather go to anyone else for help.
“Can you come over tonight?” he asked him over lunch, leg jittery under the table, his food lying untouched in front of him.
He didn’t have much of an appetite for fish lately.
Shinra finished slurping on his noodles dispassionately. He put his chopsticks down, wiped his mouth with a napkin, raised his glasses over his eyes. “Your famous scientific mystery,” he declared. “Sure, I can come tonight. When it’s you telling me something unbelievable is going on, I’m ready to follow you halfway across the world.”
“God, shut up.”
Shinra laughed brightly. He still had his white pants and coat on, the latter stained at the elbow with something that looked suspiciously like drying blood. His shift at the hospital only let him have forty minutes for lunch, and the only reason Shizuo had taken over Mikage in keeping him company for it was because he needed to. Usually, he only had to do that on Fridays.
“Will you tell me what it is beforehand?” Shinra asked. His eyes had a teasing glow to them that made Shizuo grind his teeth together in irritation.
“No,” he replied. “You wouldn’t believe me.”
“I’ve seen you kick a car like it was a soccer ball.”
Shizuo hesitated. “It’s… it’s different. You wouldn’t believe me if I just said it out loud.”
Shinra had the look of someone being challenged, now. His skin was less pale in the summer than it tended to be in winter, mostly because Kadota made sure to make him cram outside instead of in. His internship had been better to him than theory was, as well. He seemed more tired but more energetic. Healthier.
Shizuo felt himself relax. “Whatever. Just come over around two. I should be home by then.”
Shizuo’s parents’ house was only inhabited by him at the moment. His mom and dad were away on a trip, Kasuka was touring with his theater troupe, and Ruri went wherever Kasuka went. Shizuo got home from his work at the bar at one and a half, and he dragged Shinra directly outside when he arrived at two-fifteen. Dokusonmaru was asleep on the window of the kitchen and didn’t even blink open his eyes when they walked past him.
The house didn’t have a garden. The kitchen opened to a terrace back out; the terrace stopped where the sand began, and behind was the sea, black and blue in the moonlight, gently licking the rocks around the wooden fence that marked the limits of Shizuo’s home.
“You really have the perfect place,” Shinra commented, sitting down onto one of the plastic chairs. Shizuo saw him take off his shoes and dig his toes into the cold sand with a sigh of appreciation. “Growing up here must’ve been so amazing, I’m jealous.”
“You were here almost every day,” Shizuo pointed out.
“It’s not the same as living here.” Shinra kicked some sand in his direction, and Shizuo brushed it off his naked calves without much more than a groan. “So. Why am I here?”
Right. “Just wait a bit,” he replied. “Shouldn’t be too long now.”
It never was.
Shizuo heard Izaya arrive before he saw him. He had gotten used to the sound the water made around him when he was about to breach the surface, deeper than that of the quiet waves hitting the shore. Heart beating fast in his chest, he ignore the strangled breath that Shinra took in and focused on the sight of Izaya’s head rising above the water, body glowing from the water and the moon in a way it only did at night.
There was no need for any light. Izaya dragged himself onto the sand, shining like a beacon, making it impossible to mistake the sharp cuts in the sides of his neck or the black scales along his legs. They were still halfway into the water, hiding the fins at their extremities.
Shinra probably got the picture anyway.
“You brought a companion,” Izaya said, water dribbling down his chin as he shifted from whatever means of communication he had down under and to the use of lungs. He completely ignored the spluttering sounds Shinra was making right in front of him. “Well, no matter. I have two.”
Two more heads emerged behind him. Girls, Shizuo thought, and he was thankful to notice that at least they were wearing something over their bodies.
“This wasn’t a competition,” Shizuo said, eyeing the obviously younger creatures behind Izaya worriedly. “And I told you not to be naked.”
“Must’ve slipped my mind.”
One of the girls, the one with long hair, huffed loudly at that. “You know humans don’t like bodies,” she said. She choked a little, surprised by the water she had to hack out in order to speak.
“Really?” Izaya rolled onto his back, none of the wet sand sticking to his skin, and extended his arms up toward the sky. The thin membrane between his fingers was translucent and pearl-like in its shimmer. “I probably skipped that class.”
“You never skip human class.”
“Shizuo,” Shinra murmured. When Shizuo looked at him, his face was gleaming with sweat. “Are those mermaids?”
Izaya chose this moment to give a long strike of his leg into the water, and the fin at its end came up into the air, long and powerful.
“I think so,” Shizuo replied. He pushed himself off the chair and walked until he reached Izaya’s level, sitting down next to him. “He won’t tell me.”
“There’s no word in any of your languages for what we are,” Izaya said. He wasn’t looking at Shinra. Shizuo was meeting his eyes evenly, and Izaya’s were red, the sides of his face framed with more of the black scales that covered his legs and patches of his arms and back.
The girl with long hair was holding on to Izaya’s leg now, and her—sister? Her sister had her arms wrapped around her middle. When she spoke, her voice was very soft, and the water came out of her mouth less harshly than it had the other. “Not supposed to be here,” she whispered.
“Don’t be a killjoy, Kururi,” Izaya replied uncaringly. “Shizuo won’t vivisect us.”
Shizuo didn’t specify that Shinra might try—he could stop Shinra if needed. “Izaya showed up here by accident a few days ago,” he told his friend, eyeing the silver wound in Izaya’s side. “He was hurt. That’s why I wanted you to come.”
“Hurt how?” Shinra asked. He seemed to have finally regained some composure. His feet barely made any sound as he walked to their level and peered at Izaya’s body. He looked more alive than he had in years, as Shizuo had hoped.
“I swam too close up and got almost harpooned by one of your fishermen,” Izaya said. His hand touched the edge of the deep cut.
The girl holding his leg tugged back harshly, making Izaya slide onto the sand. She ignored his wince of pain and said: “You shouldn’t have swam up at all. Mom almost went belly-up when you came back.”
“Are you his sisters?” Shizuo asked.
The girl grinned. “I’m Mairu. This is Kururi.” The soft-voiced one holding her nodded her assent.
He could see the resemblance now. Mairu glowed differently, faintly pink and gold, and Kururi was a dark grey. The three of them looked like the expensive pearl necklaces being sold in the jewelry stores in town. But Mairu’s smile was the same as Izaya’s, and Kururi had the same intensity in her yellow eyes that her brother did, as if she were trying to see through Shizuo rather than look at him.
Shinra sat down in the sand on Izaya’s other side. “May I?” he asked, hands hovering over Izaya’s torso. Shizuo had never seen him act so considerate of another person.
Izaya let his hand drop to his thigh wordlessly. Shinra gently touched the wound, tracing it and then pressing slightly onto it, making something silvery leak out of it. Shizuo had seen a lot of it on the day he had found Izaya unconscious on the sand after work.
He would never forget it for as long as he lived. His cat meowing in distress by the kitchen’s door, the damp, unbearable warmth of that night, and the silver man-like creature in his backyard. Shining brightly under the moon, trapped and hurt, silver blood running out of the wound in his side.
It was weird, seeing someone else touch Izaya. Watching Izaya let someone touch him. It had taken days for Shizuo to convince him to let Shinra come in the first place, but now that he was here Izaya wasn’t showing any of the defiance he had when Shizuo tried to convince him to let himself be seen to.
“It doesn’t look healed at all,” Shinra mumbled. His hands were still on Izaya’s belly. “Does it still hurt?”
“Only when I come out,” Izaya replied, bored. “Air is surprisingly harsh. It’ll heal on its own eventually.”
“It doesn’t look to be threatening your life, at least.”
“You’ll have a cool scar,” Kururi said with reverence in her eyes. “Like grandma. You’re the same color as her too.”
“How did your grandma get a scar?” Shinra asked, voice as excited as a child’s.
“She battled a submarine.”
Shinra crawled forward on his knees, mindless of the seawater drenching his jeans as he got closer to the girls.
Shizuo shifted on his behind to look at Izaya once more. Izaya immediately met his eyes, his lips stretching into a smile; his teeth were sharp and pointy, colored a dark grey. Almost as dark as the scales on his body.
“I told you it was fine,” he said. His tone was dripping with satisfaction. “The sea heals us eventually.”
“I don’t think it works that way.”
Izaya raised a hand, and Shizuo didn’t move back like he had the first time. He let Izaya’s cold, wet palm rest on his cheek, fingers stretched apart so that the membrane linking them together touched his skin softly. He didn’t look away from Izaya despite the warm blood flooding his face.
“I wanna touch him too,” came Mairu’s voice, and Shizuo jumped backwards, heart skipping a beat.
She and Shinra were looking at them. Shinra’s face was red with the kind of interest that Shizuo never wanted directed at himself.
“You can’t touch him,” Izaya said. He pushed himself into a sitting position and kicked with his leg lightly, making his sister let go of it. “He’s my human.”
“No I’m not,” Shizuo said, mouth dry.
“You’re not allowed to have one!” Mairu yelled angrily over his words. “Humans kill us!”
“This one’s domesticated.”
“I wouldn’t call Shizuo-kun tame,” Shinra said, pushing his glasses up over his nose. Their lenses were smeared with water and salt. “He’s inhumanly strong.”
“Oh, I know,” Izaya murmured. He looked at Shizuo’s hands briefly.
Shizuo pushed himself to his knees and then up before the conversation could continue in this direction. Cool air brushed over his face, smelling of salt and algae, and he couldn’t help but shiver when Izaya’s hand brushed over his calf. “If you think he’s fine then you don’t need to stay here,” he told Shinra.
Shinra took a moment to answer. They looked at each other in the eye, and Shizuo knew without a doubt that Shinra didn’t want to leave—wanted nothing less than to leave.
Reluctantly, he added: “Maybe you can come back some time. If Izaya’s okay with that.”
Izaya’s fins gave one stroke into the water, sending it splashing over his sisters. “I don’t care,” he said.
“Okay,” Shinra replied. “Walk me out, Shizuo-kun.”
Shizuo threw one last glance at Izaya before turning around to lead the way into the house.
Dokusonmaru wasn’t sleeping anymore. He was sitting behind the door, tail twitching nervously, and he meowed pleadingly at Shizuo as soon as he came in. His ears lay flat on his head.
“They’ll go away in a little bit,” Shizuo told him. He pushed Dokusonmaru with his foot lightly, until the cat decided to obey and leave the door—hiding himself into the open cupboard under the sink instead.
“Is he afraid of them?” Shinra asked.
“Yeah. He’s just afraid in general, though. It’s less of a pain when Kasuka is here.”
It took walking Shinra to the entrance for Shizuo to realize just how tired he was. He hadn’t been able to sleep well since a mermaid had showed up in his backyard bleeding to death, and the double shift he’d had at the café-bar on the other side of town hadn’t been kind to his feet and back. His shoulders ached, his head felt like a brick, and he could feel his legs ready to drop under his weight. He couldn’t drive, and there were no buses or trains this late into the night. He had to come back home by foot.
“Shizuo,” Shinra said tensely once they reached the door. His hand grasped the handle but didn’t push it down. “You can’t hide him.”
Shizuo stayed silent.
“Your house is pretty isolated, but it only takes one boat passing by while he’s there, and the picture is all over the internet.”
He licked his lips. “I know that.”
Shinra let go of the door to hold his shoulder instead. “I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to see a real life mythological creature with my own eyes,” he added. His voice was sincere but pitying. “You really might have cured my depression with that. But he will die if you don’t make him stay away from you.”
“He won’t leave. I don’t want him to die either, you should’ve seen him—it was the worst thing I’d ever seen.” Shizuo had to swallow painfully as he recalled it; Izaya had looked more beautiful than anything he had ever seen even with the wound in his side spraying silver all over the golden sand, even with half of his right leg caught under a boulder. Shizuo had to lift it up with his bare hands to free him, and Izaya had been terrified.
Wide-eyed, scales raised over his skin like spikes, mouth open and ready to bite. Spitting water out of lungs he had never used for air before and yet still trying to threaten Shizuo into getting away from him. It had taken an hour after freeing him before Shizuo was even able to approach and help him back into the water.
He went to sleep that night with the sight of him stuck in his head. Glowing in the moonlight, looking like magic made into shape. The thought of something so incredible being killed in a fishing accident kept him up for hours, guts twisting in misery.
“He likes you,” Shinra said, and Shizuo blinked, eyes hot. “And truly, I would love to be able to study him and what little they’ve all let slip about their lives—this would be huge. We could become richer than any scientist has ever been.” He took an exhilarated breath. “Imagine being the ones to prove the existence of mermaids.”
“I don’t fucking care about money,” Shizuo replied heatedly. “I just wanted to be sure that his wound wasn’t serious. I’ll… I’ll try to get him to not to come back.”
Shinra’s hand tightened over his shoulder, squeezing it gently.
Izaya was alone when Shizuo came back outside. He was still sitting on the sand, legs in the water up to his thighs. From behind Shizuo could see the bumps of his spine and the patches of black scales at his hips and shoulders.
He walked up to Izaya’s level but didn’t sit down next to him. The sky was getting cloudy; already the moon was but a white stain, and Izaya’s glow was weaker. It made some of the tension along his back lessen.
There was less of a chance of someone seeing Izaya when he wasn’t shining so much.
“Thanks for accepting,” he said, looking into the darkness ahead.
Izaya’s hand wrapped itself around his ankle. “You said he wasn’t feeling well.”
“Yeah.” Shizuo rubbed his palm over his mouth and felt salt on his lips from the wind and the humidity. “Shinra’s been ill for a while now.”
“He didn’t look like a sick human.”
“It’s not really the kind of sickness you can see.”
Izaya didn’t question it. He stroked Shizuo’s ankle with his palm, and then his foot, stopping over his where his toes had disappeared into the sand.
Shizuo looked down at him, chest tight with the knowledge of what he had to do, but Izaya spoke before he could.
“Lift me,” he said.
A couple seconds later, Shizuo finally managed to reply: “What?”
“Lift me upright,” Izaya repeated, brows furrowing in irritation. “I want to stand, Shizuo.”
It took some figuring out. Shizuo bent forward, hesitating as he always did before touching Izaya; in the end he had to link his hands behind Izaya’s back, locking his hold under the other’s arms.
Lifting him took no effort at all. Shizuo couldn’t decide if Izaya was lighter or heavier than a human his age would be—he was about Kasuka’s build, but Shizuo hadn’t lifted Kasuka since they were kids.
Izaya winced when his feet touched the ground. “One second,” he said, and his breath hit Shizuo’s face, cold and humid like a sea breeze, making him shiver. “Mmh. It doesn’t look like I can hold my own weight like this just yet.”
“Or at all,” Shizuo retorted. “You’re not fucking made to stand.”
“I can stand on the ocean floor.”
He couldn’t help but smile. From this close it was impossible to mistake Izaya’s face for a human’s. His eyebrows weren’t made of hair at all but a simple line of scales, the same as the ones on his cheekbones and temples. His skin still shone despite how faint the moonlight was. Even his hair didn’t look like it was made of hair, and before he could help it, Shizuo shifted his hold to be able to touch it with one hand.
It felt soft, like nothing he had ever touched. Just as black as his scales. When Shizuo looked down from it and back into Izaya’s eyes, the other’s expression was impossible to mistake.
Blood rushed to his head, almost dizzying. “Izaya,” he warned.
Izaya looked up from Shizuo’s mouth. “Yes?”
“We can’t do this.”
“Of course we can.” Izaya’s hand let go of Shizuo’s arm to touch the opening of his collar instead, palm laying right against the hollow of his throat. Right against his heartbeat. “Unless you don’t want to.”
“You should never have come back here,” Shizuo said hoarsely.
“Forget about that.” Izaya leaned forward, pressing his face into the side of Shizuo’s neck. “Don’t think about whether someone might see me. What do you really want?”
There was really only one answer to that.
“You’re so warm,” Izaya murmured into his neck. He straightened up, and Shizuo felt his arms weaken from fatigue or from want, making Izaya have to grab his shoulders for support when they lowered. He laughed as he did it, most of his body sticking itself to Shizuo’s in order not to fall. “My human,” he said, affection and fascination as heavy on his tongue as it had been on Shinra’s.
Shizuo kissed him, tasting salt even before Izaya opened his mouth to respond. He felt Izaya’s hands run into his hair, wetting it, flattening it against his nape; and he felt the way Izaya’s lips warmed under his as if touched by sunlight.
He pulled away quickly. Izaya watched him, running his grey tongue over his lips pensively. “You taste very differently that I expected,” he declared.
“You taste like fish,” Shizuo replied, face hot and guts knotted from wanting more. “Now get out.”
“I don’t want to.”
Shizuo lowered his hands, grabbing Izaya around the hips and lifting him above his own head this time, mindless of Izaya’s gasps and squirms. He walked forward until the water reached his knees and threw Izaya as far ahead as he could manage.
He barely made any noise hitting the water, of course, and it wasn’t three seconds before Shizuo saw him swim back to him under the surface. Fast as lightning. He emerged and coughed until he could use his lungs again. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything about this side of human courtship.”
“That’s because it wasn’t courtship.”
Izaya laughed. “Well, I might as well leave now,” he said. His eyes were alight with glee. “I need to have a talk with a certain someone about a certain spell.”
“What spell?” Shizuo asked, doubt seeping into him.
“You’ll see,” Izaya replied.
He gave a kick of his legs, falling back under as fluidly as if he were water himself. Within seconds even the glow of moonlight on his skin was but a stain in the distance, indistinguishable from the stars’ reflection.